Violence, child abuse and risk-taking among children and adolescents

Recently the Prime Minister of one Caribbean island has cited the deep-rooted social issues that continue to plague the region.  The Prime Minister wants this issue to be addressed following yesterday’s launch of the Global Partnership to end violence among youth. He cited the ingrained practices such as corporal punishment as a   part of  the problem that has been contributing to the abuse which many children and adolescents face daily..

In addition to the use of corporal punishment in schools violence against children and adolescents is meted out when they go about their daily activities within the home, school and community in other ways. The age groups to which these young people belong spans from babies a few weeks or months old up to when they enter young adulthood at around eighteen years of age. The abuse they experience varies from physical, sexual or emotional abuse or a combination of all three.

Impact of Child Abuse on children globally

Violence against children and occurring in the first decade of life is both a problem in itself and a major risk factor for other forms of violence and health problems through a person’s life. For instance, a WHO study estimated that the lifetime impact of child sexual abuse accounts for approximately 6% of cases of depression, 6% of alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, 8% of suicide attempts, 10% of panic disorders and 27% of post traumatic stress disorders. Other studies have also linked child physical abuse, sexual abuse and other childhood adversities to excessive smoking, eating disorders, and high-risk sexual behaviour, which in turn are associated with some of the leading causes of death including cancers and cardiovascular disorders (WHO).( http://www.who.int/features/qa/44/en/)

So what can well thinking people do? My response is: ensure that parents, teachers and others should have systems in place that allows for monitoring of children and adolescents carefully.But really, how many parents are available for monitoring their children carefully? Several news reports in the Caribbean speak of little or no supervision of one or both parents. The news gets worse when reports are told of missing mothers who are eventually found dead while the young children wander around in their home communities. I cannot imagine the trauma these incidences unleash on families. These problems I believe arise and continue due to financial, emotional and mental health issues within families, hence both male and females make poor choices in choosing  partners with whom they have children. Families need more careful attention by the state without this body prying unnecessarily in their private affairs. If these systems are in place children may be spared much of the impact of neglect, abuse and abandonment.

The Adolescent Brain

Adolescence is a time of accelerated growth and development of the teenage brain. The most significant change is that unused connections in the thinking and processing part of your child’s brain, called the grey matter are discarded. At the same time, other connections are strengthened. Amazingly, this is the brain’s way of becoming more efficient, based on the use it or lose it principle. Think of many games, academic facts and figures that you learnt in elementary school. How many of these can you readily recall and use in adulthood. Memory of fine details seem to fade if left unused for long periods of time.

This lopping off process begins in the back of the brain, while the front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is remodelled afterwards. The prefrontal cortex is the decision-making part of the brain, responsible for your child’s ability to plan and think about the consequences of actions, solve problems and control impulses. Changes in this part continue to become more pronounced into early adulthood.

Because the prefrontal cortex is still developing, teenagers might rely on a part of the brain called the amygdala to make decisions and solve problems more than adults do. The amygdala is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinctive behaviour. Think about some of the impulsive behaviors you engaged in at this point of your life. What consequences have these decisions brought to your life afterwards?

However, the main change is that unused connections in the thinking and processing part of your child’s brain called the grey matter are pruned away. At the same time, other connections are strengthened. This is the brain’s way of becoming more efficient, based on the use it or lose it’ principle. Do adults have some regrets that they did not take their language classes more seriously or even their mathematical endeavours?

The stages in the  pruning process begins in the back of the brain, while the front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is remodelled last. The prefrontal cortex is the decision-making part of the brain, responsible for your child’s ability to plan and think about the consequences of actions, solve problems and control impulses. Changes in this part of the brain continue into early adulthood. Some adults are regretful that they ignored their teachers and parents who steered them away from engaging in risky behaviours. The result is that some of them live with regrets while others are grateful that they followed the advice of older family members and mentors.

 

 

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